This article was originally written for Mother Earth Living magazine and is published here with permission from the publisher. Mother Earth Living is an American bimonthly magazine about sustainable homes and lifestyle.
Aromatic plant smoke holds an ancient and familiar allure. The alchemy of transforming dried plants into fragrant smoke has a profound effect on the feeling—or energy—of a space or person. There’s a reason that cultures all around the globe burn aromatic plants in ceremony and religious practices. The emotional sway of scent, coupled with smoke, is universal and dare I say, unparalleled.
Throughout history, people have burned a large number of plants in the form of incense, resins, and leafy bundles, for various spiritual and practical purposes. Certain botanicals contain essential oils that act as a deterrent to insects. When these plants are burned, the essential oils carried in the aromatic smoke helps drive away pests like mosquitos, fleas, and biting flies. Additionally, the smoke from such plants is often antimicrobial. In one study, various plants were burned to release smoke into the air, effectively reducing airborne populations of pathogenic bacteria by 94% in one hour. Another study examined the antimicrobial effects of smoke obtained from various South African plants that are traditionally burned, and found the smoke to be more antimicrobial than other extracts from the same plants.
Having lived in the humid southeast in various primitive structures, I can personally attest to smoke’s ability to deter mold. You can imagine the importance of aromatic plant smoke before the invention of doors, screens, and contemporary hygiene practices. Burning fragrant leaves and resins helped keep people and their spaces healthy!
People also burn aromatic plants for the enjoyment of the scent or to promote positive feelings. If you diffuse essential oils in your home or light natural aromatherapy candles, you’re using a concentrated form of botanical aroma. Burning smoke sticks, resins, or aromatic leaves is simply a less concentrated way of releasing essential oils—and related aromatic plant compounds—coupled with the visual and olfactory mystique of smoke.
The spiritual and religious traditions of burning aromatic botanicals are rich and varied, traversing almost every religion and continent. The ancient Egyptians burned botanical incense as much as four thousand years ago. Aromatic plant smoke figures into the ceremonies of Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Pagans, and Hindus.
Throughout North America, various Native peoples have bundled and burned aromatic herbs for centuries. Plants such as white sage (Salvia apiana), sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), and sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) are used in ceremony and for other healing purposes. The practices and rituals vary among groups, with very specific and deliberate traditions.
I am of European descent and am not trained in any one culture’s traditional practices or ceremonies, therefore I am careful to not portray my bundling or burning as traditional Native American in style or practice. Additionally, I gather or grow plants that were traditionally used for aromatic smoke in Europe, and incorporate these into my bundles. As such, I will refer to these aromatic bundles as “smoke sticks,” as this is more universally applied. I’m specifically avoiding the terms “smudge sticks” or “smudging,” as these refer to specific practices, which belong to certain indigenous cultures in the Americas.
Many indigenous groups believe that aromatic plant bundles should not be sold but instead should be traded, gifted, or homemade. All the more reason to learn how to make your own!
Harvesting and bundling aromatic smoke sticks is actually quite easy and fun. Consider hosting a gathering with a group of friends—each bringing material from her own garden or neighborhood—and combining the botanical bounty into collective aromatic smoke bundles. Every time you burn a stick, the warmth of your friendships will be rekindled!
Read complete article at: Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine ~ Homegrown and Wild Harvested Aromatic Smoke Sticks